In July 2009 Melbourne artist Gali Weiss approached SAWA with an idea. As a woman living in Australia Gali felt fortunate and privileged that she had the freedom and encouragement to realize her potential. Having heard about the conditions under which Afghan women struggle to pursue what she views as a basic right, she felt compelled to act.
Apart from donating money for their cause, Gali suggested to promote the cause of Afghan women through the arts. She proposed a plan of collaboration between Australian women artists and Afghan women and girls. It would involve images in book-like forms that would be created in Australia and would somehow be transported to Afghanistan to be overlaid with writing by women and girls - any kind of writing in any language, whether stories or poetry or words alone. The books would then return - somehow - to Australia and exhibited.
After some initial discussions between Gali and SAWA the idea turned into reality. Gali contacted friends in the Melbourne art community, and six months later 14 artists had produced a series of concertina-type books in many different styles. When SAWA convenor Matthias Tomczak visited OPAWC's Vocational Training Centre in April 2010 he took the books with him and handed them over to Latifa, the Centre's director. The original books, as they were designed in Australia, can be seen on Gali's website Collaborations.
It was interesting to see the reaction of the women. At first sight they were taken in by naturalistic scenes such as the lino prints of Annelise Scott but puzzled by Jennifer Kamp's expressive design. But Latifa discussed the books with the classes and allowed the women time to think about what to write.
Another six months later 36 books* arrived in Adelaide by mail. They are all absolutely beautiful, and the combination of Australian art with Dari and Pashto text written by women who a year ago were illiterate is deeply moving.
In Adelaide SAWA members Reyhana and Aziza prepared brief summaries of the text. Understanding the texts from Afghanistan greatly adds to the spiritual value of the books. The experiences and hopes expressed in their words turn the project into a message to the world: Do not forget your sisters in Afghanistan, who have the same hopes as you but so much less opportunity to turn them into reality.
18 months after Gali's first email the books came back to Melbourne. They were exhibited at Impact7, a conference held by the Faculty of Art & Design of Monash University in Melbourne, where Gali and SAWA (SA)'s Melbourne contact Barbara Kameniar also gave an oral presentation on the project.
The books found their permanent home in the State Library of Queensland. Under the purchase agreement SAWA (SA) can use images of the concertina books and the text to document the project in the high quality art book now available at the SAWA shop.
Gali Weiss shows Malalai Joya the books
during Malalai Joya's speaking tour; September 2011
* Not all books came back to Australia. Some women who studied at the Centre encountered domestic problems and had to drop out of the course. Their books remained in their households.